There is a kingdom surrounded by mountains, mountains that stand strong, tall and protective over the thriving kingdom. Within the citadel walls people are out and about busy with work and children running around laughing, having fun. Adunan is a rich, thriving kingdom, whose castle stands as beautiful and proud as the royal family residing there. Within the castle the princess stormed through the halls, her long golden hair and silky, lavender sleeves of her gown flowing behind her along with her frantic servants attempting to get her attention and hold her back,
‘Milady!’ Her maidservant Rhetta was attempting to not trip as she chased after the princess, ‘Milady please, your father the King is extremely busy today with multiple meetings and hasn’t the time—’ Annthea ignored the protests of her servants and pushed open the doors of her father’s study chambers.
‘Father!’ Annthea made her way across the room storming past her father’s most trusted advisors, he frowned a bit at the intrusion but then apology made it’s way to his face as he remembered their forgotten meeting. ‘Annthea, forgive me.’ Her pink lips pulled into a disapproving frown.
‘Father, you promised that you would accompany me on an afternoon ride. I have been waiting by the stables for you.’
‘Forgive me, my daughter. But I do no think that I can make it today, there is much to be done and much that I need to see to.’
Annthea sighed, ‘You have forgotten about me haven’t you?’ The king smiled apologetically and placed a hand on her shoulder, ‘I will send Lucianus to accompany you in my stead. And next time I will not forget about our engagement next time.’
‘All right father, but I hold these men witness to your words!’ The king chuckled and gave her a kiss on the forehead, ‘Be safe.’
Lucianus, the firstborn to the King Hadrianus and Queen Claretta, Annthea was their second child and their youngest, another son, Romanus who usually accompanied his sister on her afternoon rides was busy with lessons. Both princes and the princess had a fairly close relationship, willing to give each other advice and able to speak freely of subjects and pressures thrust upon them. Being the two eldest children Annthea and Lucianus grew up forming a sympathetic relationship between themselves through all the pressures that come up with being the eldest son and eldest daughter of a king.
‘Thank you brother for accompanying me today.’ Lucianus smiled as he looked up towards the bright blue sky littered with fluffy white clouds. ‘Of course sister.’ Annthea ran her hand through her horse’s soft white mane, allowing the silky hairs to slide through her fingers.
‘He didn’t mean to forget about your engagement today.’
‘What do you mean?’ Annthea averted her brother’s gaze and instead turn to the ring of guards surrounding the two royal siblings, there were always guards surrounding them she could not remember a time she had been free to roam without an entourage surrounding her. Lucianus continued, ‘Father. He just had many meetings he had to attend to. Much is happening Annthea.’
‘Like what? He has not attended to a single outing or even a single meal. And he gives us no explanation. Why the sudden increase in meetings? Lucianus is something wrong? Or am I to prepare myself for an oncoming war?’ The last part of her sentence was reduced to a whisper.
The war started when the two were very young; too young to participate in strategy meetings or to see the battlefield littered with death, but not young enough to be shielded from the pain written on the faces of those who had their families ripped apart. It was a war against the rise of sorcery.
When Annthea was just six and Lucianus had just turned eight, she could recall the maids and other servants whispering in the halls of people suddenly being able to move faster than a horse, people who could read the minds of others, seeing the future, people who could do things that were not natural –sorcerers, but they called themselves Paeriamos. These people were dangerous and needed to be either contained and tried for their terrible nature or put to death for what those sudden abilities had caused. People were slaughtered, burned at a pyre and publicly beheaded. There was the rare individual who used these new abilities to fight back, the rebels. As the war progressed to a climax those individuals seemed to become pairs, those pairs of people became groups and they seemed to spread throughout the five kingdoms.
‘There is always a war Annthea.’ Lucianus’s voice low and somber, the fight against human greed trying and filled with much grief alone, but the war against these sorcerers was an unnatural one. One that, no king –no matter how wise –knew how to fight against because, how can one fight against a supernatural ability? The siblings continued their ride in a silence save for the soft padding of horse hooves on the soft grass. Annthea had always loved riding outside of the citadel walls especially in the forest, the lush and green trees towered above her head strong and sturdy as thought they were holding the sky up. The forest itself seemed to hum with life, birds sang different songs in secret messages to each other in the trees over their heads some flying high racing after the sun swift and free. Wild game rushed away rustling the bushes and pounding on the ground in added harmony and percussion to the melody of the bird’s wrapping itself around Annthea’s mind reminding her of times when there was peace in their lands, when she was just a child. There were no wars to worry about and no such thing as a witch or warlock except within her fairytales.
Many years ago, when the two were still very young, the royal siblings would always venture beyond the walls of the citadel with their parents. Playing in the woods and have the kitchen staff prepare a picnic that they would serve near a peaceful river. Annthea wished for those days. She was pulled out of her reminiscing by her brother’s abrupt stop.
‘Lucianus, what-?’ He quickly put a finger to his lips. Annthea instantly shut her lips tight together, listening intently for whatever seemed to put her brother on high alert. The other guards in their entourage had a hand on the hilt of their swords, eyes darting into the trees surrounding them.
An arrow flew through the trees and landed only a few feet away from Annthea’s horse startling the timid animal, her attendants quickly rushed to her side. ‘Bandits!’
‘Take the princess to safety!’ Lucianus drew his sword as a group of masked men rushed from out of the trees crying out as they drew their weapons. Annthea ducked her head as she was escorted out to safety, arrows flying and landing around her.
‘Ah!’ A masked man appeared in front of her weapon drawn, causing her horse to rear up throwing Annthea to the ground. Her maidservants flew to her side as a guard quickly blocked the blow from one of the bandits, Annthea was pulled to her feet once again before her maidservants rushed her away from the battle. Her steps faltered as she tripped over her skirts.
‘Your highness we must keep running!’ She could still hear the clanging of swords as loud as a thunderstorm. She wanted to turn around to check and make sure that her brother was still standing but her maidservants urged her forward, Rhetta pulled on her arm as she attempted to turn back around,‘ The crown prince will be fine Milady! But we must get you to safe-’
Annthea screamed as one of her maidservants fell to the ground with an arrow in her back. She lifted her skirts a bit more in order to keep herself from tripping; the shouts from the bandits behind her seemed to be getting closer and closer. They had ridden too far out, going farther on the path than they’ve gone before. She had been upset and requested that they ride out longer than they usually would. If she didn’t ask such a thing they wouldn’t have run into the bandits. Annthea mentally scolded herself and her selfishness. The pair got to a river but before they could even attempt to cross a scream was ripped from Annthea’s throat as she was pulled to the ground, a bandit had tangled a dirty hand in her hair, ‘You’ll fetch a pretty coin, Milady.’ He spat out in her face as she glared.
‘Release me!’ She struggled only achieving a headache as his grip in her hair tightened the man holding her down seemed to hold her in his grasp as though she were just a butterfly, not bothered by her wriggling at all. Her attendant was also being harassed by a couple of bandits who were spitting out profanities as they grabbed at the poor maidservant who could only feebly attempt to pull away from their grasps.
‘Avanthea! (Yield)’ The bandits all froze. Annthea had to crane her neck up to see a figure standing above the men on a stone ledge. The figure wore poor man’s clothing, simple brown trousers and a dark blue shirt but it was a woman. A young woman, no older than Annthea, her hair was pulled back into a loose braid strands falling into her eyes that were currently set in a hard glare at the men holding the two ladies in their grips.
‘Ska, Brev eth dethnelor! (Leave, brat of Brev)’ The words spoken sounded rough in the Bandit’s throat, completely foreign to Annthea. She had to admire the girl standing in front of these large men unflinching at the harsh sounding words that were spat from the man’s mouth.
‘Alphaeus el le-iloheim? (Does the Queen know about this?)’ A smug grin pulled at the corner of her mouth as she crossed her arms, arrogance dripping from her words. The leader of the bandits growled a bit under his breath. He called for one of his men and threw Annthea at him.
‘Alphaeus el lai-iloheim. (The Queen doesn’t need to know about this.)’
‘Lothanthae Actaeon? (Are you going to challenge me Actaeon?)’ The bandit clenched his fist and raised them into a fighting stance. ‘Lothanthae theor! (I do)’
‘Who is she?’ Annthea whispered to her captive, he didn’t offer any answer other than a grunt not paying much attention to the annoyed princess in his hold, eyes lit with excitement at the oncoming fight between his leader and this mysterious girl.
The girl shook her head and clicked her tongue as though the bandit were only a misbehaving child. Leaping down from her perch she landing in the river with a splash. An amusement lit up her face, excitement for the fight. Annthea never saw a woman engage in any sort of battle –especially against a man who was most likely very experienced in battle. The woman chuckled to herself.
‘What do they say?’ She persisted despite Rhetta’s pleading eyes for the princess to shut her mouth. Once again she was awarded no answer, she huffed in irritation at their blatant disregard for her but before Annthea could prod with more questions the large man charged at the girl with a loud cry. Before he could land even a finger on her, she waved her hand in front of her face the water from the river flew towards the man knocking him to the side. He sputtered shaking the water off of himself before jumped back to his feet. He drew his sword instead, as he approached she held her arms out and the river that was once calm seemed to draw up around her the river was actually very shallow just going up to her ankles the depth growing until it rushed past her knees. The bandit leader was stopped short before actually reaching the girl. The water from the river crawled towards him before wrapping around him like a snake clutching it’s prey. The bandit dropped to his knees trying to gasp for air as the water started to pull him back towards the river. Now struggling on his back to release himself from the girl’s hold his legs flailed as he attempted to kick uselessly out at the water, his face started to turn blue with the lack of oxygen.
‘Avanthae, Actaeon. (Yield, Actaeon)’ She placed a foot on his chest as he was dragged to her feet. The man let out a garbled reply of agreement, immediately the water trickled away from him allowing air to once again reach his lungs.
‘I-lachem avanthae. (Yield your men)’ The bandit gestured to his men who now released the princess and her maidservant in fear.
‘Come on! Let’s rally the others, hele danthae. Baetheus. (Forgive me.)’ He quickly scurried away following his men who ran into the trees. Annthea felt her maidservant grasping her arm, ‘Milady please, let’s go!’ Annthea ignored her and stood, ‘Who are you?’ The woman made a move towards the princess and Rhetta but stopped, staring at the amulet on Annthea’s belt that bore the crest Adunan. Her eyes widened,
‘You’re…’ She froze at the sound of Lucianus calling Annthea’s name. Casting one last glance towards the princess she ran into the cover of the trees disappearing into the shadows.
‘Annthea!’ Lucianus emerged into the clearing, his armor covered in dirt and blood, his sleeve red where he was cut with a sword, ‘Are you all right?’ Annthea just nodded absently. Looking into the forest where the mysterious witch had disappeared.
Annthea made her maidservant swear to not tell her brother or anyone else of the witch from the forest. She protected the princess’s life and if the king found out how, she knew that he wouldn’t hesitate to put his daughter’s savior to death.
‘Milady,’ Rhetta spoke, ‘the king and queen wish to meet with you.’
‘Thank you Rhetta, I will be along shortly.’ Her maidservant bowed her head low before stepping out of her mistress’s chambers to wait for her in the hall. Annthea quickly checked her appearance, fixing her hair before going out and following her maidservant to the throne room.
‘My king, princess Annthea has arrived.’
Annthea bowed her head and curtsied low in front of her father, mother. Lucianus stood at his father’s side arms folded behind his back dutifully, ‘You have summoned me father?’
‘I was relieved to hear that you were able to return to us safely my daughter.’ He stood up from his throne and walked towards her placing his hands on her shoulders gently, ‘Thank you father.’
‘We were worried when we heard of the attack in the forest.’ The queen had placed a hand gingerly on her chest, brows creased. ‘Forgive me for worrying you mother.’
‘All that matters is that you have returned to us safe and alive.’
‘Speaking of which,’ the king turned back around to sit on his throne, ‘Lucianus tells us that someone was seen fleeing the area.’ Annthea cast a glance towards her brother before answering hesitantly.
‘Yes, he has spoken correctly. But they were the one to save me, not someone who attacked me.’
‘Someone saved you from a group of bandits single-handedly? Who was this person?’
‘They did not give me a name.’
The king’s brow furrowed a bit in confusion, ‘Why would someone not want acknowledgement for their heroic action?’
‘Forgive me my king,’ Lucianus stepped forward, ‘My men and I rushed forth when we saw the princess and I believe that we might have scared them off.’
‘Her.’ Annthea corrected and was faced with three pairs of eyes suddenly turning to her.
‘Yes, your highness, it was a girl who saved me.’ The queen took her seat on the throne next to her husband, ‘A girl? How could a girl have saved you from the bandits? Surely she would have been overpowered.’
Annthea paused thinking of her words carefully, remembering the girl’s sorcery with the water and how strong it was to defeat the large bandit.
‘She was very cunning your majesty. Used words and speed to her advantage.’
‘She sounds very clever.’ Annthea inwardly chuckled at the queen’s words, perhaps more gifted than clever. We must find her and give her a reward for saving your life.’
‘I do not know a thing about her, not even a clue on how to begin a search for her.’
‘Lucianus.’ Lucianus moved to stand besides Annthea bowing his head in front of the king and queen, ‘you and your men will ride with Annthea tomorrow. Search the surrounding villages where she was found. We will not let this good deed go unrewarded. Especially one that saved the princess’s life, such debts cannot be taken lightly.’
‘Yes, your highness.’
Rhetta was brought along with Annthea to help further the search. There were four surrounding villages closest to the area that Annthea was found. Pallum, Verandis, Parvas and Brev. There were many villages within Adunan’s boarders, but these were the ones found to be just outside the safe fortress of the citadel walls but close enough that if needed the castle was only about half a day’s journey away. Each village provided the kingdom with some type of produce; Pallum provided fine cloth and were talented tailors, Verandis was known for their high quality livestock grown in lush fields, Parvas housed many talented blacksmiths, each of these three villages also provided fruits and vegetables in a greater abundance than what was provided inside the walls of the kingdom due to the large amounts of open land, the other villages provided similar wares. But Brev was a small village, the smallest of the four and was known to be very poor. They had nothing of large importance to offer the kingdom; it was located in a very desolate location where most people in exile escaped to.
‘Everyone we have talked to says that the girl matching the princess’s description comes from Brev.’
‘Brev?’ Lucianus studied their map, looking for the best roads to take. Their company had currently stopped to rest at Parvas, the only village with an inn large enough in the area for their group to stay all together. The inn was owned by an elderly woman who was so hunched over she looked as though she were almost bent in half. She was a very kind woman though willing to spare the crown prince and princess their own rooms and provide free food for the royals and their guards.
‘Yes sire, they don’t have a name. It seems she is the daughter of a man name Tomas, of Brev.’
‘Tomas of Brev? I have never heard of this man. What is his line of work?’
‘He is a simple farmer and his wife died a couple of years ago. He has only his daughter, but none of the villagers have mentioned her name. She’s been known though for her mischief.’
Annthea tried to remember the girl who faced off the bandits alone in the forest. She had no idea what was said between the leader of the bandits and the girl but she held herself in confidence, an almost smug grin was etched onto her face barely noticeable.
‘Milady.’ Rhetta whispered to Annthea when the prince and the guard seemed a bit more caught up in their discussion of this Tomas of Brev and his mysterious daughter.
‘What is it Rhetta?’
‘What will we do?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She’s…’ Rhetta glanced around the sparsely filled room, making sure no one was paying attention to the princess and a lowly maid, ‘one of them milady.’ Annthea slowly raised her cup to her lips, she never thought about what would happen when they found the girl. She was just curious and wanted to learn more about her, having never met a witch or warlock herself in person before Annthea didn’t know much about them aside from what she heard from other servants and news from the war. She turned to Rhetta and placed a hand on top of her maidservants slightly trembling one, ‘Do not worry so much Rhetta. It will be all right.’
‘But milady, if your brother learns that she is…then she will be in danger!’
‘Annthea.’ Annthea turned around to see her brother standing next to her, ‘We should retire, it is getting late and must start moving again first thing in the morning.’
‘Yes brother.’ Giving her worried and nervous maidservant’s hand one last reassuring squeeze before standing to retire to her room.